The Highway War by Seth Folsom

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Click on cover image to purchase a copy

MWSA Review

Eyewitness account of OIF! Years ago Marine artist Col Charles Waterhouse drew a cartoon of a grizzled Marine Gunny, complete with cigar, pulling on a Santa outfit as he prepares to entertain young children, as compared to his normal demeanor of an intimidating Gunny. Maj Seth Folsom’s book details a similar transformation, as he grows from a nervous young officer facing his first combat to that of a skilled and articulate officer and husband.

A Captain at the time, Folsom is a blunt and honest writer who discusses his fears and concerns of what he is about to encounter in Iraq. The likely-hood is that many Marines and soldiers, both officers and enlisted, can identify with his worry of how he will fare in his first combat: Can he hack it? How well will he perform? Will he make any mistakes that might cost the lives of his Marines? The difference between them and Folsom is his frankness in discussing these concerns. 

Folsom uses the story of his role as company commander to tell the story of Delta Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion as they participated in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. From breaching the berms into Iraq, to watching and waiting as his fellow Marines fought at An-Nasiriyah, to the fighting on the way to Baghdad and beyond, Folsom pulls no punches and spares no feelings in his descriptions of leading 130 Marines into combat. The invasion in March 2003 was the beginning of an unusual war against a non-traditional enemy, and Folsom has to find his balance as an officer when dealing with both his superiors and the Marines under him while learning how to lead Marines in combat. Sand, stink, rain, lack of sanitation, fatigue, grime, and nerves are just some of issues with which he dealt even before he and his men even encountered the enemy. Folsom covers the military actions from 21 March 2003 through the April 2003 capture of Baghdad, and he accurately recounts the stress, excitement, and confusion of those historic days.
   With the book written from the notes and recollection of his wartime journal, this is a fascinating memoir revealing are his feelings as he dealt with his Marines, and how he matured as an officer and as a human being. Many readers, especially his fellow officers will find much to critique in his rough and abrasive leadership style, and his dislike of the media is at odds with Marine Corps policy. But it is Folsom’s same bluntness that lets him write so revealingly – and perhaps these same readers can use his vignettes as an ‘after-action report’ in order to guide themselves in similar circumstances.

In perhaps a reflection of the asymmetrical nature of this war, Folsom recounts participating in briefings with the generals and colonels leading the invasion, and later singing with his men as they blast rock & roll music at rock concert levels. Perhaps one unexpected bonus of war in the wired age is that we readers can share in our warrior’s thoughts and experiences while they are still fresh, and as such, Maj Folsom’s book is both an exciting read and highly recommended.

Reviewed by: Andrew Lubin (2007)

Author's Synopsis

The Highway War is the compelling Iraq War memoir of then-Capt. Seth Folsom, commanding officer of Delta Company, First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps. Mounted in eight-wheeled LAVs (light armored vehicles), this unit of 130 Marines and sailors was one of the first into Iraq in March 2003. It fought on the front lines for the war’s entire offensive phase, from the Kuwaiti border through Baghdad to Tikrit.

Folsom’s thoughtful account focuses on his maturation as a combat leader—and as a human being enduring the austere conditions of combat and coming to terms with loss of life on both sides. Moreover, The Highway War is the story of a junior officer’s relationships with his company’s young Marines, for whose lives he was responsible, and with his superior officers. Folsom covers numerous unusual military actions and conveys truthfully the pace, stress, excitement, mistakes, and confusion of modern ground warfare. The Highway War is destined to be a Marine Corps classic.